Drought is No Time for High Maintenance Plants - Baker County, Florida
Drought is No Time for High Maintenance Plants Barbara Smith, Baker County Extension Horticulture AgentEven though you may not want to worry about spring drought in March, it isa good time to think about the possibility of future water restrictions andwhat you can do now to help your landscape survive despite less water.The best change you could make now is to stop trying to keep up a highmaintenance landscape. Thirsty lawns and plants create problems during adrought, especially when we must abide by water restrictions. Plant lessthirsty plants and they will do better and you will save money on your waterbill. During the past few years we’ve experienced severe drought beginningin late spring. You can make your yard more drought tolerant this yearusing some of these techniques.1. Group plants by water usage in your landscape. Put plants that needmore water together in one plant bed and those that tolerate drought inanother plant bed in a separate area. Use drip or low-volume irrigation toget the water lovers through the drought. Drought tolerant plants, onceestablished, should be able to survive without additional watering. Creatingplant beds makes tending plants easier. Mowing around one big bed isquicker and easier than mowing around many small plants. And you canmulch the entire area to keep out weeds. Beds are aesthetically pleasingalso because they tie separate landscape elements together.2. Raise your mower blade to let lawngrass grow taller; it will grow deeperroots and be able to withstand longer periods without water. For more, seeUF/IFAS publication: ENH157 Managing Your Florida Lawn Under DroughtConditions.3. Water grass and bedding plants only when they look stressed.4. Don’t do anything to promote plant growth, like fertilizing or pruning.During a drought, just keep plants healthy, don’t push them to grow. Holdoff on lawn and shrub fertilization until droughty conditions subside.5. Make sure rainwater from your roof is collected in a rainbarrel or divertedonto soil where it will help plants. If you have gutters, don’t let them spillonto concrete or pavement where water is unused. You could add araingarden feature in your yard. This is a grouping of native plants, thatdon’t mind wet feet, located in a low spot where water runs off impervioussurfaces like rooftops and driveways. The raingarden will collect and slow themovement of water and the plants growing there are watered. Raingardensserve a higher purpose as well. They protect the groundwater by slowing theexit of water from your property long enough for the water to be absorbedand filtered by the plant roots. This helps prevent runoff and cleans the
water before it enters the aquifer. And that is important since our drinkingwater comes from the Floridan aquifer.6. Increase your use of mulches to cut down on evaporation of moisturefrom the soil in the rootzone of plants, especially in beds. Keep mulch offrootball on trees and away from the trunk, however. Leaves, pine straw,pine bark and other tree bark make excellent mulches.7. Plant a windbreak on the side of the property where prevailing windsblow. During drought, a windbreak of shrubs will reduce air flow through anarea where plants tend to dry out in hot dry weather. Cutting down windreduces evapotranspiration from plant leaves. Plants won’t dry out asquickly and you’ll use less water as a result.8. Select plants that can take drought. Cut down on the amount of thirstyturfgrass in your lawn or use bahiagrass for your lawn. Use more perennialsand fewer high maintenance annuals. Select drought tolerant plants whenyou change out or add new plants. Drought tolerant plants are able towithstand drought because they have one or more of the following features: • evolved in arid areas (We have many native plants that also occur in Texas such as Prickly Pear Cactus and Leucophyllum (Texas Sage) • have thick cuticle (waxy coating on leaf surface) which reduces water loss from leaf (Southern Magnolia) • have hairs on the leaf surface that cut air flow across the leaf surface & thus, cut water loss from the leaf (Beautyberry) • thicker leaves lose less water and are more drought tolerant (Aloe, Yucca, and Century plant) • smaller leaves lose less water and are more drought tolerant (Wax myrtle, Viburnum obovatum) • large surface root systems to quickly absorb small amounts of rainfall (some trees, shrubs, grasses) • deep root systems to tap deep water tables (some trees like pines) • avoid drought by dropping their leaves during droughts, and quickly regrowing new leaves when environmental conditions improve. (Similarly, Bahiagrass turns brown, then greens up once drought is past)9. Don’t go on a planting spree. Before you replace all your thirsty plantswith drought-tolerant species, remind yourself that all newly transplantedplants need extra water for a while to become established. The timerequired for establishment varies. Smaller plants establish more quickly thanlarger ones. So, how much extra watering is required for newly plantedplants? One rule of thumb is 6-months for a gallon container, one-year for athree-gallon container plant, and six to 12-months for each inch in trunkdiameter for newly planted trees. If you are planting seeds, they need tostay moist. Plants in pots, especially clay pots will need more frequentwatering than those planted in the ground.This document includes information from an article by Daniel Culbeth, Horticulture agent, UF/IFAS OkeechobeeCounty Extension Service. Changes and additions were made by Barbara Smith, Horticulture Agent for BakerCounty Extension (2008).